Jun 15, 2024 | CHASENBOSCOLO

Who Can File A Wrongful Death Lawsuit In Virginia_ image

The heartbreak of losing a family member because of someone else’s actions is a loss that never goes away. While no amount of money will make up for your loss, you may have immediate financial needs to consider. These needs may include funeral and burial expenses, your deceased family member’s medical bills, lost income, and more.

A Virginia wrongful death claim can help you hold whoever caused your family member’s death accountable. These cases also can provide you with the resources to move forward from this tragedy. Virginia law only allows certain people to file a wrongful death claim and seek compensation, however. We have handled many of these cases at CHASENBOSCOLO, and you’ll find everything you need to know about who can sue for wrongful death in Virginia below.

Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim in Virginia?

State law says that in most cases, the personal representative of the deceased’s estate is the one who must file a wrongful death claim. Typically, the personal representative is someone the deceased named in their will. The personal representative could be a family member, friend, or anyone else the deceased chooses. Whoever the personal representative is, they are the only ones who can file a wrongful death claim in most circumstances. (The personal representative can have a lawyer represent them in the case.)

If the deceased did not name a personal representative, the courts can appoint someone to serve in that role. That person can then file a wrongful death claim.

There are two main exceptions to the rule: Only the deceased’s personal representative can file a wrongful death claim. First, if a wrongful act leads to the death of a fetus, the natural mother can bring a wrongful death claim. If the natural mother dies or cannot act, the administrator of her estate, her guardian, or her personal representative can initiate or continue the claim.

Additionally, if a minor dies and a parent has custody due to a court order or agreement, that parent gets priority to file a wrongful death claim. The parent with custody can waive this right and allow another designated person to file the claim instead. If the custodial parent or their designee does not act within 30 days, the courts may grant others the right to file the claim.

How Does Virginia Law Define a Wrongful Death?

Virginia’s wrongful death law says a death is wrongful if it results from “the wrongful act, neglect, or default” of someone else. In plain terms, that means a death is wrongful if it happened because someone else failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the deceased from being injured.

Wrongful deaths in Virginia take many forms. Some of the most common causes of wrongful deaths include:

  • Car Accidents: Fatal car accidents often result from reckless driving, speeding, or driving under the influence.
  • Medical Malpractice: Healthcare professionals may make critical errors, such as misdiagnosing a condition, surgical mistakes, or improper medication administration, which can cause patient fatalities.
  • Workplace Accidents: Dangerous working conditions, inadequate safety measures, or defective equipment can lead to fatal accidents on the job. Fatal workplace incidents are widespread in construction and industrial settings.
  • Defective Products: Faulty products, such as malfunctioning machinery, unsafe toys, or contaminated food, can cause fatal injuries or illnesses. Manufacturers are liable for these deadly defects.
  • Nursing Home Neglect: Elderly residents in nursing homes can suffer fatal injuries or illnesses due to neglect or abuse. This includes inadequate medical care, poor hygiene, and physical abuse.
  • Premises Liability: Fatal accidents can occur on someone else’s property due to unsafe conditions, such as slippery floors, broken stairs, or unmarked hazards. Property owners must keep their premises safe for visitors.
  • Bicycle and Pedestrian Accidents: Drivers who fail to yield or are distracted can cause fatal accidents involving bicyclists and pedestrians. These vulnerable road users have a higher risk of suffering severe, potentially fatal injuries.

Who Gets the Money from a Virginia Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

In Virginia, state law outlines specific rules for distributing the money from a wrongful death lawsuit. These rules help ensure any compensation recovered goes to the right people. Here’s how it works:

  • Primary Beneficiaries: The first group includes the deceased’s surviving spouse, children, and grandchildren. If any of these exist, they get the money.
  • Parents and Dependents: If there is a surviving spouse or children, the parents of the deceased can also receive money if they relied on the deceased for support or services in the year before their death. If there is no spouse or children, then parents, siblings, or other relatives who depended on the deceased and lived with them get the money.
  • Surviving Spouse and Parents: If the deceased left behind a spouse but no children or grandchildren, the surviving spouse and the deceased’s parents split the money.
  • Other Relatives: If there are no primary beneficiaries, the money can go to other relatives who depended on the deceased for support and lived with them.
  • No Survivors: If none of the above relatives exist, the money is distributed according to Virginia’s rules of descent, similar to how an estate is divided.

Potential Compensation from a Virginia Wrongful Death Claim

Who Can File A Wrongful Death Lawsuit In Virginia_ image 2

According to Virginia law, compensation awarded in a wrongful death claim may include money for:

  • Sorrow and Mental Anguish
  • Loss of Income
  • Loss of Services from the Deceased
  • The Deceased’s Remaining Medical Expenses
  • Funeral and Burial Expenses
  • Punitive Damages, provided the deceased died because of someone’s death willful or wanton conduct or their reckless disregard for the safety of others.

One thing to note is that while there are generally no limits on compensation in wrongful death cases, state law limits punitive damages to a maximum of $350,000. An experienced attorney can help you with your case and maximize the potential compensation from your claim.

Time Limit to File a Virginia Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Most of the time, Virginia law gives you two years from the date of a family member’s death to file a lawsuit. It’s crucial to meet this deadline or lose your right to compensation.

CHASENBOSCOLO can help you find justice after a family member’s wrongful death in Virginia. We’ll handle all the legal details so you and your family can work through your grief without the stress of a lawsuit. Call (301) 220-0050 today or complete our contact form for a free consultation.